I’m really confused by some of the reactions I’ve seen to the charges filed against Edward Snowden. He disclosed information the government contends he was not authorized to disclose, and he did it in an overt, very public fashion. Do we really expect the government to say, “That’s cool, bro, you meant well”?
I’m not saying he’s guilty; I’m not saying he doesn’t have defenses; and I’m certainly not saying he should be punished harshly. I’m saying, how can you seriously argue the government should just do nothing in the face of conduct that appears to be illegal? Or, maybe the better question is this: If the government is supposed to just ignore Snowden’s potentially illegal conduct, how do you suggest the government should decide when to prosecute and when not to prosecute people who disclose classified information? Yes, prosecutors have discretion; but how do you propose they exercise that discretion? Based on political considerations? These aren’t easy questions, but you have to answer them before you bash the Obama Administration for making the decision to prosecute.
Interestingly enough, even Snowden’s greatest booster, Glenn Greenwald, acknowledges that some charges are probably appropriate. Greenwald’s objection is that the Administration “overcharged” Snowden:
[On MSNBC] Greenwald noted that Snowden didn’t work for a foreign government, he didn’t provide information directly to America’s enemies, and he didn’t sell any top-secret information, so the espionage charge seems extreme to him. However, he was not surprised that the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act for the seventh time to go after a government whistleblower.
[Chris] Hayes acknowledged that the act is “pretty terrible,” but asked Greenwald that even if you believe there was an enormous net benefit to what Snowden released, why there shouldn’t be some official “recriminations” for people who violate the “basic norms of the institution.” Greenwald made it clear there is absolutely no one who believes that Snowden shouldn’t be charged, because even Snowden himself admits he violated the law and expected to be charged with something.
At this point, according to the Washington Post, the criminal complaint against Snowden is under seal. Until the specific details are released, I’ll reserve judgment on Greenwald’s “overcharging” argument.
But as to the argument that the government should simply have done nothing? I fail to see how that makes any sense.